SALEM, Mass. — A woman set her Salem Heights apartment on fire last night and slashed her two children, according to a police spokesman.
The two children, ages 3 and 8, were first taken to Salem Hospital and later MedFlighted to Children's Hospital Boston, according to police and Fire Department spokesmen.
"These were very serious injuries," said Rich Thomas, public information officer for the Salem Fire Department.
Nearly 50 people were left homeless for the night after the floor they live on, which has 19 apartments, became part of a crime scene, Thomas said.
Firefighters answered an alarm shortly before 9 p.m. and at first found nothing as they "humped up" seven flights of stairs, according to Thomas.
On the seventh floor, however, they encountered heavy smoke and intense heat. At the apartment, where the fire started, they used extinguishers to fight the blaze. Here, they also discovered the first victim.
The second was found in a neighboring apartment.
"It was definitely a great rescue," Thomas said. "Just to find the right apartment."
Resident Katrina Odoardi, who held her own toddler in her arms as she waited in the parking lot, described seeing two firefighters leave the building with the two injured kids under their arms.
"One kid left in a stretcher," she said.
The fire drove hundreds of people onto Pope Street, and detectives were not able to access the seventh-floor crime scene until the fire was brought under control. The fire was essentially put out, however, in a matter of minutes.
The mother was being interviewed by detectives as of 11 p.m.
Residents, unaware of the cause of the fire, gathered in the complex's parking lot, chatting in the unseasonably warm evening air. Nearly a dozen firetrucks, police cruisers and emergency vehicles filled the approaches to the huge building.
"I heard the alarm, and I ran outside," Tina Getchell said. "I saw the smoke, and I heard the windows breaking on the seventh floor."
As she spoke an enormous the ladder extended all the way to the seventh floor. Getchell said she was careful to feel her door for heat before opening it and heading out of the building.
"I was making a pot of coffee," Hilda Turcotte said. "I shut it off. And all of a sudden, I smelled something. I opened the window." She saw smoke coming from a seventh-floor apartment. "I headed for the stairs when I saw that."
"All I could hear was glass breaking," Katherine Jimenez said. "Then I got a call telling me to leave." She could smell the smoke, as well. "Even on the second floor, you could smell it."
Resident Helen Rice complained that after many years in the building and many fire drills and false alarms, "you don't know what's real." Even so, she was quick to evacuate. "I just came out like everybody else."
Around 10 p.m., some residents were allowed back into the side of the building that was untouched by the fire.